Playwright Michael Elyanow's tumultuous world-premiere comedy-drama "Robyn Is Happy" at B Street Theatre veers across wide swaths of dramatic territory.
It details the changing relationship of three lifelong friends over a year in the women's lives. Opening as a jokey series of very funny one-liners, the play left-turns into an escalating series of dramatic confrontations before climaxing with a wildly entertaining, unpredictable finish.
Set in present-day Chicago, Elyanow's trio of adult women Robyn (Elisabeth Nunziato), Trudy (Amy Kelly), and Hannah (Melinda Parrett) have been best friends since the second or third grade, depending on who's counting. Drawn together by matching birthmarks on their thumbs, they have forged separate careers while maintaining a singularly close relationship.
Nunziato's effervescent Robyn is an attorney at a big-time law firm; Kelly's halting Trudy teaches at a Waldorf school, and the resolute Hannah has her own marriage and family therapy practice. The union of onstage friends makes for a sterling combination of complementary actors with numerous strengths. Nunziato and Parrett each maintain seemingly effortless dramatic connections while Kelly's comedic gifts make Trudy's passive honesty a continued gold mine of laughs throughout the show.
The united front has cracked, though, with the disintegration of Robyn's 14-year marriage to Dean, an academic. Feeling liberated, Robyn has been living it up, but in the eyes of Hannah, she's having too much fun. Having glimpsed Robyn in flagrante delicto at an office party, Hannah feels an intervention is needed and pulls Trudy into the action.
While initially comic and clever, Elyanow's script has roots in the very real and uncomfortable dilemma of just how aggressively we should insert ourselves into someone else's life. What choices do we have to accept whether we agree with them?
Hannah feels Robyn's companion of choice is inappropriate. Robyn acknowledges that it might be a little unconventional, but for the first time in her adult life she feels happy. Trudy soon follows with her own less-than-traditional choice, finding previously elusive happiness as well. Hannah eventually finds herself battling her friends as they make lives she does not approve of.
Samantha Reno's bright set nimbly rotates as it becomes the women's different apartments. Director Buck Busfield effectively focuses on the shifting relationships despite Elyanow's pushing the story into creatively unlikely situations. The playwright provides plenty of bracing writing even as he telegraphs bits of the narrative. Although the finale feels underdone, his audacity triumphs.
ROBYN IS HAPPY
What: The B Street Theatre world premiere of Michael Elyanow's comedy-drama
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 5 and 9 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays, through April 14.
Where: The B Street Theatre Mainstage, 2711 B St., Sacramento.
Tickets: $23-$35, $5 student rush.
Information: Call (916) 443-5300 or www.bstreettheatre.org
Call The Bee's Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120.